Barbarians at the firewall

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Even on the best days, many of us struggle to trust our tech tools.

Yes, they may have dramatically increased our efficiency, comfort and access to funny videos. But let's face it, these helpers hardly come with a lifetime warranty.

One just never knows when a laptop screen will defect to the Dark Side. Or when a smartphone battery will give up the ghost. Or when a wayward backhoe might suddenly snap a cable that carries mission-critical data.

Chances are these mishaps sound uncomfortably familiar. And when such breakdowns occur (which they always seem to do at the worst possible moments), it tends to be more than a bit frustrating. Perhaps rage-inducing is more like it. But they pale in comparison to the potential damage a garden variety cyberattack can inflict.

How bad can it get when hackers come a calling? Far worse than “Game of Thrones” scripts being held hostage. Just ask Merck. Thousands of computers at the third largest drug company have been seizing up in recent months, thanks to your unfriendly neighborhood hackers.

Now think for a moment about medical devices in your community that might be connected to networks. Imagine the mess you'd have if insulin pumps, or pacemakers or other connected medical devices were to suddenly go kablooey?

And what if you could no longer send information electronically to your colleagues or vendors or government agencies? Or worse, if that information were to simply vaporize? The medical, legal and financial implications could be crushing.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but the chances of such day-ruining events actually happening have never been greater. The fact is, cyberattacks targeting health-related firms continue to escalate, as a recent KMPG survey shows.

"Providers are on treacherous ground here and some organizations are underestimating cyber-security risks," said Healthcare Advisory Leader Dion Sheidy.

Small wonder cyber security is becoming quite the cottage industry. That is, if a sector that generates more than $80 billion a year in spending can be described as such.

Tech analyst firm Gartner projects that worldwide spending on IT security will grow by 7% this year, to $86.4 billion. And there's a good chance that a lot more of your organization's money will be filling that bucket in the years to come.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at


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